8 Dec 2014

Disabled campaigner loses bus case – but ‘battle not over’

A disabled man says he will continue his fight for wheelchairs to be given priority over buggies on buses, despite losing his case at the appeal court.

The court ruled that bus companies should not be forced by law to draw up policies forcing parents with buggies to make way for wheelchair users in designated bays on buses – and that it was for parliament to decide if action was needed in this area.

The case was brought by Doug Paulley, who featured in the award-winning Channel 4 News No Go Britain campaign, a series of special reports about the problems disabled people face on public transport.

Mr Paulley, 36, from Wetherby, west Yorkshire, took on transport company First Group, which had refused to let him board a bus because a parent with a buggy with a sleeping baby inside was occupying the wheelchair space.

‘First some, first served’

First Group’s “first come, first served” policy meant that a bus driver could not order a buggy user to move if someone with a wheelchair wanted to board.

In 2013, a judge at Leeds county court ruled that this policy contravened the equality act, but First Group took the case to the appeal court, where it won.

In his blog, Mr Paulley says permission is now being sought for an appeal to the supreme court and that “the battle isn’t over yet”.

In the appeal court, Lord Justice Underhill said that “wheelchair users will occasionally be prevented by other passengers from using the wheelchair space on the bus”.

‘Reasonable justification’

He added: “Sometimes there will be a reasonable justification for that happening, but sometimes there will not.

“I do not, however, believe that the fact that some passengers will, albeit rarely, act selfishly and irresponsibly is a sufficient reason for imposing on bus companies a legal responsibility for a situation which is not of their making and which they are not in a position to prevent.”

Martin Chamberlain QC, for First Group, told the appeal court at a hearing in November that the company had appealed because it needed to know “what they are legally required to do and how”.

No Go Britain: special reports

In our No Go Britain series we talked to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Paralympian who won 16 medals during her career, who told us about being left on a train at midnight and forced to “throw my chair off the train and then crawl off”.

We also heard about wheelchair users refused access to buses and left in the cold for hours, blind travellers stuck on trains because members of staff failed to meet them, and a man with a learning difficulty who went missing for three days after ending up on the wrong train when his platform changed.

Despite losing at the appeal court, Mr Paulley believes there are grounds for optimism. He writes in his blog: “I am both disappointed and pleased at the same time. I hope to have this finally sorted in the supreme court.”

Mr Paulley says the judgment will still benefit disabled bus passengers because bus companies will have to “provide training for bus drivers and devise strategies that drivers can adopt to persuade people to clear the wheelchair space”, as well as running awareness campaigns about the needs of disabled travellers.